Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pac Said, "Keep Ya Head Up"

Alright, Arthur. You saw it, I saw it and we can both hear the incessant griping out of Detroit, "the dirty Ducks are at it again, blah, blah, blah." I would like to point out that the first penalty called in the game was on one Jiri Hudler for a dirty elbow on Francois Beauchemin. There were a lot of things that went into Brown's hit on Hudler. I don't think it was dangerous, and I'm sure I'll get my chance to explain, but why don't you lay it down for everyone and give a level perception of what happened when Brown knocked some sense-- sorry --knocked down Hudler?


So, here's what happened. Believe it or not, the Red Wings broke discipline first in this game. At 8:00 of the 1st, Jiri Hudler elbowed Francois Beauchemin. I'd love to tell you more about the play, but I didn't see it on Versus, as they didn't show it. I saw the replay on TSN, and while it doesn't look like a hard and sudden elbow, Hudler follows through all the way, which pries Beauchemin's helmet off, and takes him out of the play.

Fast forward 3:30, and Jiri Hudler is handling the puck just outside of his zone. He tries to make a quick play, backhanding it off the boards and turning low. Mike Brown is in Detroit's zone, and puts Hudler in the train tracks right before he touches the puck. Hudler releases the puck along the boards, and we hear the appropriate number of beats that would require a player to at least let up if he's still going to execute the check. Brown charges full steam ahead, and finishes the hit with his shoulder. He catches Hudler flush, and the hit is made even more dangerous by the fact that Hudler was turning his body to skate toward Brown as contact was made. Hudler was twisting one way, and then violently twisted back onto the ice like one of those "Hit Stick" checks in NHL 09. Hudler was cut either by the ice or his visor when his head hit the ground, leaving a pool of blood. He got up gingerly, opening and closing his hands (I don't know what that's medically relevant of, but it caused me to say, "DAYUMN!").

Now, if you ask me for my unbiased hockey analysis? I think that it's a retaliation play made worse by the fact that the offensive player had his head down. If Corey Perry got blindsided with a late shoulder check to the head after he elbowed Claude Giroux, I wouldn't call it a dirty play, any more than any retaliation or the initial cheapshots and elbows that breed them are dirty plays.

Is it illegal or suspension worthy? See, this part I love. The Hockey Central crew on Versus both agreed that the play is a terrible and suspension-worthy offense. But then I read the crew over at Hockey Night in Canada agreed it was a clean hit, and decided to move on with the broadcast without discussing it. Apparently, the only broadcast to express some disagreement was TSN, where Bob McKenzie reiterated a point he explored in an article he wrote this week, where he points out that a shoulder blindside to the head is NOT an illegal hit in the books. Dirty hit? Yes. Should be excised from the sport? Yes. But does the NHL say you can never put your shoulder into a guy's head? No.

But here's the thing. It's been legal for so long that I don't think of it as dirty. When Scott Stevens took Paul Kariya out in the Stanley Cup Finals in '03, it was a blindside shoulder check to the head that was a beat or two late. He even leaned into it with his elbow. I didn't get up and scream that it was dirty, even though I was pretty sure Paul was dead (I mean, it was like his 6th concussion, 2nd major one). So, maybe I'm insensitive, but I don't care how BADLY you were hurt, if the reason that you were hurt so badly and were unable to protect yourself is that you made a play with your head down.

I couldn't agree more.

Actually, I'm furious for a different reason. Keith Jones is over in the Versus booth, crying like it was his kid who got it. He was mad like someone took his lunch money, or tried to date his daughter without bringing a condom. There's nothing more frustrating in Hockey than when good hits get called dirty because someone gets hurt. Look, the hit on Paul in 2003 pissed me off, but just like Barry said, he kept his shoulder in and then followed through. This hit wouldn't have been a problem if it wasn't for Hudler deciding to pirouette at center ice after getting rid of the puck. Someone on his team should have told him.

Look, Brown was barely on the tracks. He had stopped striding well before he went after Hudler. He is a big dude, who can generate some speed very quickly, but he kept his arms in and he only hits Hudler with the follow through. While I hear Detroit fans crying already about "if it was Getzlaf you'd want a suspension." All I can say is my guys know that if you go around the neutral zone with your head down, somebody is going to drop you.

Moreover, Hudler coming back like he did leads me to believe that the only thing that was really wrong with him was that he got cut. Since when is a hockey player getting cut such a tragedy? If all that happened was that he got cut, and he's not hurt then the hit is clean. There should be no suspension. We lost our second-best PK forward for the first game of the series, and Detroit scored 2 goals as a result. I don't know what else to say, really. Yes, the hit looks bad, but only if you don't know what you're doing. There's less than a second and a half from when Hudler gets rid of the puck and when Brown hits him, is that time enough to pull up? Sure. But if Brown is zeroed in, he's not moving. He kept his shoulders in, didn't lead with the elbow and followed through.

More than anything, I'm angry about how one bad thing seems to snowball on us. Pronger loses his head a few times, and all of the sudden the entire Ducks organization is dirty. Detroit was doing the same things we were, but for some odd reason, being from California means we don't know how to play real hockey. Wake up!!! We won the cup. We have the most postseason series victories since 2003, and we didn't accidentally upset San Jose. The refs did a great job of calling this game down the middle. I don't really disagree with the Interference call although I think a double minor would have been much more appropriate, unfortunately, there's no such call, but that's another topic. But if Brown gets suspended for this, it's just another example of how the league doesn't care about hockey in California, and is more focused on protecting its cold weather franchises.

Okay, but you agree that it was a 5-minute Major for Interference? Rulebook (56.4 and 56.5) reads that any interference with a degree of violence that results in an injury should result in a Major for Interference and a Game Misconduct. Clearly, Brown knew he was getting there a beat late, and could be called for Interference. If the guy gets injured, regardless of whether Brown meant to injure him or not, he knew he could get called. So, it's gotta be a 5-minute Major for Interference, right?

I don't think this is a 5-minute Major, and that's a problem with the rule. I know we want to stop hits to the head, but the referees need the power of discretion. I do think you can call the penalty. It's definitely an Interference call, and he did draw blood. But it should be a double Minor, not a Major. Just like with high sticking: if blood is drawn, the penalty is 4 minutes instead of 2. I'm not saying there should be an automatic 4 minutes every time someone draws blood, just that when it comes to hits to the head, a more effective tiered system is needed. With high sticking the refs don't make the decision; here they should.

But, let's take a closer look at what happened. The hit was a second late. This isn't Donald Brashear peeling off from a change to crack some guy who hasn't touched the puck for 4 seconds. This is a guy who had the puck carrier in his sights and tried to separate the carrier from the puck. Even during coverage, no one observed it was a bad hit until there was blood. That, to me, means it's not a dirty play. If it's not dirty, and there's no intent to injure, which is not the same as playing physical, then the 5-minute Major and Game Misconduct shouldn't come into play. There was no Boarding. No bad stick work. Nothing. Majors should be reserved for penalties that are malicious and seek to injure. This was neither.

I'm okay with calling this a penalty, and given the rules, I guess the refs had no choice but to call the Major. However, this rule needs to be reevaluated. I'm just not in favor of something like Interference being an all or nothing penalty. There needs to be a way for the refs to consider the degree of injury and whether or not it was directly caused by the hit. I'm in favor of rules that protect players, but I'm more in favor of players protecting players and refs being able to call the game that is in front of them.

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